So, we’ve all been there, you write a paper for review and it goes through numerous rounds of edits and then comes back to you two days later riddled with track changes, comments and questions, often added by those who didn’t understand the purpose of the paper in the first place.
In our business we call this ‘the chain of pain’. As communications consultants, we’re the silent advisors who are tasked to eradicate verbal diarrhoea emails, death by PowerPoint and the chain of pain.
So as HR Managers how do we save our teams wasting thousands of hours of productive time going back and forth, having to re-explain ideas and spending too long just trying to get the point across?
We believe anyone can become a more effective communicator and we’ve worked with enough professionals over the decades to see that everyone needs ‘communication’ as a core competency. In fact, legal and other technical experts can often be the worst offenders especially when needing to explain complex and technical issues and solutions.
So where to start, here are our top three ways we work with teams from the get-go to help them tune up their communications skills.
Ask the right question
Working with a group of mid-level managers recently we asked workshop participants to divide into groups and plan a piece of communication they were developing in their business. About half an hour in, we heard one group have a ‘Eureka!’ moment.
In mapping their plan on a whiteboard, they had realised they had not been able to get management to buy into a recommendation for the past three months because they had not just been answering the wrong question in their papers but they had been trying to solve the wrong problem.
A business storyline* is a simple map of ideas arranged into a logical order and hierarchy. It can be used to make a complex business case or structure a simple email, for a presentation or a speech, for a meeting or a workshop, and you can use different storylines to use in different circumstances.
Storyline patterns are ‘the secret’ to structuring your ideas so you can succinctly convey your key points, enabling quicker decisions and better business outcomes.
We worked with a Head of Tax at a major Australian law firm who said that he would previously prepare 50-plus pages of advice, but now he can get a much clearer message across to his clients in five or six pages. The advice is the same, it is just much easier for the client to grasp it. The challenge, of course, is that this approach does make something that is very complex look deceptively simple.
Make it simple, not simpler
Often when we want to come across like we know something, appear confident and show leadership we can waffle, over-explain or fill in silences with a muddled train of thought or lots of over complicated technical jargon to sound impressive.
Coming back to what question your audience want answered, by truly understanding your audience and by spending a short amount of time structuring your communication your leaders and teams will reap the rewards.
By showing clear, concise and well thought out solutions to problems your teams will win more customers, leverage increased senior-buy in and stop haemorrhaging their productive work hours labouring over track changes.
Keywords: leadership communication, leadership skills
Davina began her consulting career as a Communication Specialist with McKinsey & Company in Hong Kong and now runs Clarity College. She loves helping teams to use logic to push their thinking early on so that they can consistently deliver brief and insightful stories to their clients. She and Gerard Castles, her business partner, have just released their first book, The So What Strategy.
Learn more about me and my work